The Georgia high school football championship games are in the Georgia Dome on Friday and Saturday in the final week of a season that began in August.
If you want to be in the know, these 10 nuggets may help:
*What’s new: There are seven championship games this season for the first time. That’s because the GHSA expanded to a sixth classification and split Class A into public and private divisions. That means earlier kickoffs. Dooly County and Emanuel County Institute are driving from south Georgia on Friday to make the first state championship game to start in the morning (11:30 a.m. Saturday).
*Dynasties: Buford has reached the finals for a record sixth consecutive season and can win an eighth title in 12 seasons, something matched only by Valdosta (1951-62 and 1960-71). Calhoun is in the finals for the fifth straight time and can become the eighth school in history to finish 15-0 in consecutive seasons. Sandy Creek is going for a third title in four seasons, which has been done by only 13 schools. ECI can become the only Class A school with two titles in the past six seasons, during which the Bulldogs are 70-9.
*First-time champions: Nine of the 14 teams in the finals have never won GHSA state titles. That’s the most never-before champions ever in the finals. With their first year of playing varsity football noted in parentheses, those teams include Prince Avenue Christian (2005), Lovejoy (1990), Ridgeland (1989), Dooly County (2001), Ware County (1958), Norcross (1957), Jefferson (1947) and Gainesville (1905). The ninth, Eagle’s Landing Christian, won a state title in the Georgia Independent School Association in 1996 and joined the GHSA in 2004.
*Most expected: Sandy Creek (AAAA) and Calhoun (AA) have been ranked No. 1 since the preseason. ELCA (A) has been ranked No. 1 since Sept. 10. ECI, at No. 2, is the highest-ranked public school in A. Also not terribly surprising are No. 2 Norcross (AAAAAA), No. 3 Buford (AAA), No. 6 Ware County (AAAA), No. 7 Jefferson (AA), No. 7 Lovejoy (AAAAAA), No. 7 St. Pius (AAA) and No. 9 Ridgeland (AAAA).
*Least expected: The unranked teams in the finals are Gainesville in AAAAA and Prince Avenue and Dooly County in A. Gainesville was ranked until losing its final two games of the regular season to Loganville and Flowery Branch. No team has won a state title with a finish like that since Marietta in 1967. Prince Avenue was dropped after losing its final regular-season game to George Walton Academy. Dooly County is the only significant surprise to many. The 11-2 Bobcats upset fourth-ranked Lincoln County 10-7 in the semifinals.
*Northern exposure: Five of the 14 finalists are north Georgia teams from outside of metro Atlanta. They are Gainesville, Ridgeland, Calhoun, Jefferson and Prince Avenue Christian. That’s the most of their kind since 1977. Granted, there are four more teams playing in the championships this year than last, but only five years ago, no north Georgia teams outside of metro Atlanta made the finals.
*St. Pius, class of ‘80: Three 1980 graduates from St. Pius are head coaches in these finals. They are Ware County’s Ed Dudley, St. Pius’ Paul Standard and Norcross’ Keith Maloof. Their high school coach was Keith’s father, George Maloof, who led St. Pius to its only state title in 1968. Each of his three protégés is looking to win his first state title.
*Blue-chippers: Two of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Super 11 are still playing. They are defensive tackle Montravius Adams of Dooly County and defensive back/receiver Vonn Bell of Ridgeland. Those two plus Norcross running back Alvin Kamara are Georgia’s three most highly recruited players who have not made college choices.
*State record: Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson needs 17 yards to break the state record for career passing yards of 9,062 held by Zach Stanford of Metter (2001-04). Watson set the state record for career TD passes last week. He has 105. Watson is a junior.
*Player of the year: This all-classification award has gone to a player in the state finals for 22 of the past 26 seasons, and it’s almost certain it will this year. Leading contenders include Watson, Adams, Bell and Kamara and the other 2,000-yard rusher in the AAAAAA final, Lovejoy’s Travis Custis. And don’t forget Calhoun quarterback Taylor Lamb, already named the Gatorade state player of the year. Some dark horse candidates are Jefferson quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, Ware County two-way star Xavier Tobler and Ridgeland 2,000-yard rusher Darrell Bridges.
Produced by Georgia High School Football Daily, a free e-mail newsletter. To join the mailing list, click here.